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Best iPad for Pilots: Overview, Best Features, Specs, and Price Points

Finding the best iPad for pilots involves matching the models available with the needs of the pilot in question.  A commercial pilot will need a higher spec iPad to that of a student.  having an Apple iPad in the cockpit has become almost indispensable. It’s hard to imagine flying without one, as it provides invaluable navigation, flight planning, and weather information.  So let’s take a look at what models are available and best suited to aviators of all types.

Finding The Best Ipad For Pilots Involves Matching The Models Available With The Needs Of The Pilot In Question
Photo by Francois Hoang on Unsplash

1. What is the best iPad Pilots? Models to suit all

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is the flagship model, with a powerful processor and stunning display. It’s ideal for pilots who need top-of-the-line performance and advanced features.

  • Display: 12.9″ or 11″ Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Processor: Apple M1 chip
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB
  • Price: Starting at $799 (11″) and $1,099 (12.9″)

iPad Air

The iPad Air is a more affordable option, offering excellent performance and a great display at a lower price point.

  • Display: 10.9″ Liquid Retina display
  • Processor: A14 Bionic chip
  • Storage: 64GB or 256GB
  • Price: Starting at $599

iPad Mini

The iPad Mini is perfect for those who need a smaller, more portable device with decent performance and features.

  • Display: 8.3″ Liquid Retina display
  • Processor: A15 Bionic chip
  • Storage: 64GB or 256GB
  • Price: Starting at $499

2. Benefits of Using an iPad in the Cockpit

Using an iPad in the cockpit offers several benefits:

  • Improved Navigation: Access to aviation apps like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot, providing real-time navigation and charts.
  • Flight Planning: Easily plan your flights and calculate fuel consumption, weight and balance, and more.
  • Real-time Weather Updates: Access to live weather data, including radar, satellite imagery, and METARs/TAFs.
  • Paperless Cockpit: Reduce clutter and save weight by eliminating paper charts, checklists, and manuals.
  • Cost Savings: Lower subscription costs for charts and databases compared to traditional aviation GPS units.

3. Essential Features to Look for in an iPad for Pilots

When choosing an iPad for cockpit use, consider the following features:

  • Display Size and Quality: Choose a display size that works for your cockpit setup and offers crisp, clear visuals.
  • Battery Life: Ensure the iPad has a long battery life for extended flights, or invest in an external battery pack.
  • Durability: Look for a durable device that can withstand the rigors of cockpit use and potential turbulence.
  • Operating System: Make sure the iPad supports the latest iOS version for compatibility with aviation apps.
  • Processor: Opt for a model with a fast processor to handle demanding tasks and ensure smooth performance.

4. iPad Apps for Pilots

There are numerous apps available to enhance your flying experience, including:

  1. Navigation: ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, FlyQ EFB
  2. Flight Planning: SkyDemon, iFlightPlanner, FltPlan Go
  3. Weather: MyRadar, AeroWeather, WeatherSpork
  4. Communications: LiveATC, CloudAhoy, PilotEdge
  5. Training: Sporty’s Pilot Training, Boldmethod, King Schools
  6. Entertainment: Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video (for those long layovers)

5. Comparing iPad Models for Pilots: Pro vs Air vs Mini

When comparing iPad models, consider factors such as display size, performance, storage capacity, and price:

  • iPad Pro: Offers the best performance and largest display, making it ideal for aviators who need advanced features and top-of-the-line specs. 
  • iPad Air: A more affordable option with excellent performance, the iPad Air is great for aviators who want a balance between features and cost.
  • iPad Mini: The smallest and most portable option, the iPad Mini is perfect for those with limited cockpit space or who need a more budget-friendly device.

6. How to Set Up your iPad for Cockpit Use

To optimize your iPad for cockpit use, follow these steps:

  1. Install essential aviation apps: Choose the apps you’ll need for navigation, weather, and flight planning.
  2. Configure app settings: Tailor each app’s settings to your preferences and needs.
  3. Set up mounts and chargers: Find the best mounting solution for your cockpit and invest in a reliable charger or external battery.
  4. Connect Bluetooth devices: Pair your iPad with Bluetooth headsets, GPS receivers, and other accessories.
  5. Optimize display settings: Adjust brightness and enable night mode for easier viewing in various lighting conditions.

7. Best Mounts for Using your iPad in the Cockpit

Selecting the right mount is crucial for ensuring easy access and visibility. You may opt for a specific pilot kneeboard or just use an iPad mount. Some top mounts for iPads include:

  1. RAM Mounts: Offers a wide range of mounting solutions, including yoke, suction cup, and glare shield mounts.
  2. MyGoFlight: Provides high-quality, versatile mounts that can be easily adjusted for optimal viewing angles.
  3. Sporty’s iPad Mounts: Offers affordable and straightforward mounting options for various cockpit setups.

8. Best External Batteries for your iPad on Long Flights

Investing in a reliable external battery can keep your iPad powered during long flights. Top choices include:

  1. Anker PowerCore Series: Offers a variety of capacities and charging speeds to suit your needs.
  2. RAVPower Portable Chargers: Provides high-capacity and fast-charging options for extended use.
  3. Goal Zero Sherpa Series: Features rugged and durable designs with solar charging capabilities.

9. iPad Pro vs iPad Air: Which is Better for Pilots?

Deciding between the iPad Pro and iPad Air ultimately depends on your specific needs and budget:

  • iPad Pro: Best for those who require advanced features, top performance, and the largest display. 
  • iPad Air: Ideal for those seeking a balance between cost and performance, offering excellent features at a more affordable price.

10. Essential Accessories for your Pilot iPad

Enhance your iPad experience with these must-have accessories:

  1. Protective case: Invest in a durable case to protect your iPad from damage.
  2. Screen protector: Prevent scratches and glare with a high-quality screen protector.
  3. Stylus: Improve accuracy when interacting with your iPad by using a stylus.
  4. Bluetooth keyboard: Easily type and input data with a portable Bluetooth keyboard.

11. How to Keep your iPad Secure in-flight

To ensure your iPad remains secure during flights, consider the following tips:

  1. Use a strong mount: Invest in a reliable mount to prevent your iPad from falling or shifting during turbulence.
  2. Enable a passcode or Touch ID: Protect your personal information by setting up a passcode or using Touch ID.
  3. Regularly update apps and iOS: Keep your device and apps up-to-date for optimal security and performance.
  4. Use a VPN when connected to public Wi-Fi: Protect your data by using a VPN when accessing public networks.
Cockpit Layout Is A Factor In Choosing
Cockpit layout is a factor in choosing
Photo by Maël BALLAND on Unsplash

Student Pilots

For anyone learning to fly, an iPad is an excellent tool to enhance their training experience. The new iPad Mini, with its smaller size and lower price point, is an ideal option for those just starting out in general aviation. The iPad Mini 6 offers an 8.3-inch display, perfect for fitting inside the tight spaces of a Cessna cockpit. The smaller size doesn’t sacrifice performance, as the latest iPad Mini is equipped with a powerful A15 Bionic chip and optional GPS chip for improved accuracy.

The iPad Mini with Wi-Fi is sufficient for most student pilots’ needs in the cockpit. However, if you plan to use apps like ForeFlight that require moving map capabilities, a cellular model iPad might be more suitable. Keep in mind that although the iPad Mini with just Wi-Fi is more affordable, pilots using ForeFlight Mobile or similar apps may need to invest in an external GPS receiver for accurate positioning.

Private Pilots

For private pilots flying for leisure or personal transportation, a larger screen is beneficial when using apps like ForeFlight, which display detailed charts and maps. The iPad Air and iPad Pro models offer bigger screens, with the iPad Pro available in 12.9-inch and 11-inch sizes. Both models provide ample power and performance for flying, and the cellular iPad models include built-in GPS capabilities.

When choosing between the iPad Air and iPad Pro, PPLs should consider their budget and desired features. The iPad Air is a more affordable option, while the iPad Pro models offer top-tier performance and additional features like the Liquid Retina XDR display on the 12.9-inch model. Either 64GB or 256GB of storage should be sufficient for most private pilots, depending on their app usage and preferences.

Commercial Pilots

Commercial pilots require the most advanced tools and technology to ensure smooth and safe operations. The larger iPad Pro, particularly the 12.9-inch model, is ideal for commercial pilots who need the biggest screen and most powerful processor. The iPad Pro models also offer more storage options, with capacities up to 2TB. A cellular model is recommended for commercial pilots to maximize connectivity and moving map capabilities in apps like ForeFlight.

When it comes to iPad accessories, commercial pilots may benefit from investing in high-quality mounts, external batteries, and protective cases to ensure their iPad remains secure and functional during long flights and challenging conditions.

The Best Ipad For Pilots Depends On The Pilot, The Aircraft, And The Cockpit Layout
The best ipad for pilots depends on the pilot, the aircraft, and the cockpit layout
Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

Generation iPad

I began this post by pointing out that the best iPad for flying depends on the pilot’s specific needs and preferences. Student pilots may find the iPad Mini 6 to be the perfect balance of performance, size, and affordability, while private pilots may prefer the larger screens of the iPad Air or iPad Pro. Commercial pilots will likely benefit from the top-tier performance and features offered by the iPad Pro models. Regardless of the iPad or tablet chosen, pilots across all levels will appreciate the wealth of information and convenience these devices bring to their flying experience.

With this guide, you should now have a better understanding of the best iPad models for pilots, essential features to look. iPads have revolutionized the way pilots navigate and manage their flights. With cellular connectivity, these tablets offer real-time updates on weather and ADS-B traffic data, ensuring safer and more efficient flying experiences.

The variety of screen sizes available caters to different cockpit setups and personal preferences, while the new iPad models released since 2021 continue to push the boundaries of performance and features. By utilizing an iPad in the cockpit, pilots can benefit from a versatile and powerful tool that simplifies flight planning and enhances situational awareness, making it an indispensable asset in modern aviation.

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